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on 2 December 2017
Good read.
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on 29 July 2014
Recently there has been a growth in contrarian claims that major environmental problems just aren't real. If you read the Mail, Telegraph and, sadly, even the Times in recent years you might think there was a debate about whether or not global warming/climate change was really happening.
There is no debate: the basic principles were established long ago. Science is never complete, there is always scope for debate about the details, the rate at which various things will occur, models can always be improved. And this is where confusion is spread. 'Free market fundamentalists' as this book ends up defining the main players in this story use the nature of science; that there is always some uncertainty and more needs to be researched to deliberately confuse issues; to suggest that not knowing precisely how pumping CO2 into the atmosphere will affect the climate in minute detail is the same thing as not knowing that it will cause the world to heat up overall.
This book shows how an anti-science movement began when the tobacco industry recruited scientists to help obscure the harm cigarette smoking caused. (Oddly most of the scientists in this story began as cold war rocket scientists.) There was a calculated strategy of distortion and misleading the public about the harm caused by cigarettes, and the same people went on to argue against almost every ecological threat and for nuclear weapons right up to the present day. It's the same people, the same "think" tanks, the same techniques, the same funders (though in recent years the fossil fuel corporations have played an increasingly large role.)
And it all stems from wishful thinking. 'The invisible hand of the market' will create the 'best of all possible worlds' and any regulation is a bad thing. They are even trying to re-write history and claim DDT was benign!
Sadly this nonsense is now spouted widely, by Viscount (Matt) Ridley, James Delingpole, Lord Lawson and, most incredibly by Owen Paterson, until recently the Secretary of State for the Environment. Whenever a threat to the environment is identified the kneejerk reaction of the political far right is to deny the science. The market is perfect: if science tells us the market is devastating the environment it must be the science that is wrong. (Compare this with badger-culling and neonicotinoids today for example - not in this book but following the tradition and style of argument developed here.)
Read this book: learn how a handful of scientists in the pay of large corporations and billionaires have betrayed science, spread distortions and misrepresentation and obstructed environmental protection; get angry and take action to counter the lies before the damage to our planet is irreversible.
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on 5 June 2014
A history of the disinformation campaign against the facts regarding smoking and health, the hole in the ozone layer and climate change science. How unfair arguments, lies and deceit have been employed to support big business and governments who don't want to do anything to protect people and the planet. This book is clear and well argued -- but its opponents will not be deterred by the truth. Anyone who wants to understand the way irrational ideas become acceptable should read this book.
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on 28 January 2011
In 1988 the United States was on course to take remedial action to slow the pace of man-made global warming. But by the mid 1990s the issue was dead. This change was brought about by a small, loosely connected group of individuals, who used skills and techniques they had honed during earlier campaigns:
> on behalf of tobacco companies to deny the adverse health effects of smoking (when the tobacco companys' own scientists had known the truth for decades);
> on behalf of chemical companies to deny the existence of the ozone hole, and when that was established beyond doubt, to pretend that it was not caused by the release of CFCs;
> on behalf of the fossil fuel industry to deny that the burning of coal was the principle cause of acid rain;
> and other issues.
And again and again the same names, Singer, Seitz and Nierenberg in particular, keep cropping up.

This extraordinarily important book describes the history of each campaign in turn, and exposes the techniques of disinformation which proved, and continue to prove, so devastatingly effective, especially when people were being fed things they wanted to hear which allowed them to continue irresponsible behaviour. The power of a few determined mavericks to successfully undermine the combined expertise and authority of mainstream scientific bodies at the highest level is chillingly apparent.

The authority of the book, with its moderate, scholarly tone and its 64 pages of references, is all too evident. Indeed the reader can only wish that its appalling story were not so obviously true. But it does provide a convincing explanation for the biggest puzzle of all - what on earth it is that motivates these people, who presumably live on Earth like the rest of us, and some of whom must surely have grandchildren too. The answer has something to do with free market zealotry and passionate antipathy to regulation of any kind, but if the argument could be summarised in a review there would have been no need to write the book, or indeed to read it.
It is a gripping and fascinating read. Forget fiction like the Da Vinci Code, this is the real thing. I recommend it without the slightest hesitation.
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on 22 December 2010
"As recently as 2007, 40% of Americans believed that scientific experts were still arguing about the realities of global warming." And, of course, they were not; global warming is a long-acknowledged, scientific fact, say science professor Naomi Oreskes and science writer Erik M. Conway. They show how "merchants of doubt" - a dedicated cabal of conservative scientists on the payrolls of industries and right-wing think tanks - have labored successfully over the decades to convince a broad spectrum of the public that the truth is not true, that scientific fact is merely opinion, that secondhand smoke will not kill you, that industrial pollution did not cause acid rain, that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) did not deplete the ozone layer and that global warming does not exist. In this jaw-dropping, meticulously researched work of science, politics and investigative journalism, Oreskes and Conway track the shockingly long history of widespread, willful dissemination of scientific fiction in the service of politics and profits. getAbstract recommends this sure-to-be classic to all those interested in the environment, in the processes of politics, science and media, and in learning the hard facts that underlie so much propaganda.
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on 10 July 2015
Well made but you could can link those on both side of a debate to special interest groups to discredit their arguments if you don't like. Bit of an old approach. You could link disbelief on climate change to tobacco smoke or you could parallel it to many dangers perceived that never came to fruition like BSE, Y2K and global cooling. Of course I guess I will get pegged as an industry insider as well... of course I could disagree with their views without being corrupt.
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on 22 December 2013
It has long been quite common knowledge that the smoking industry knew the harm caused by smoking many decades before they would publicly acknowledge it, yet it remains a mystery why there is not more anger about this fact. It is also surprising that we constantly allow the same denials to be maintained by industries damaging the environment in which we live.

This book will not get the readership it deserves, and it is unlikely to be read by anyone other than people who already know the basics of the false debates created around these issues. Those who genuinely believe - for example - that global warming is a conspiracy created by scientists to gain funding will continue to post 1-star reviews of this book, shortly afterwards placing fingers firmly in their ears in order to avoid ever having contradictory information entering their heads.

No respected scientific institute rejects the evidence supporting global warming, or the conclusions of the IPCC, yet a few negative statements published in newspapers - or in books - but never in peer-reviewed journals is enough for people to completely accept that yes, global warming must be a conspiracy to build windmills or raise the price of petrol. These people are impossible to argue with, which is why the press needs to be appropriately regulated to ensure that people form opinions based on the best evidence available to them, rather than lies and disinformation.

Sadly, people will often choose to believe the things that suit them - i.e. that humanity cannot possibly have an impact on our environment so we can carry on exactly as we are.

I suspect when the oil really starts to run out and the climate really starts to make things unpleasant for us, they'll find something else to blame. Even if they do have an epiphany, it'll be too late by then to do anything.

If you do care, read this book and encourage others to do so.
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on 23 December 2014
A very good book about how certain scientists with conflicting interests have deliberately obfuscated the truth about various issues, ranging from tobacco smoke to global warming.

The author is a Professor of the History of Science at Harvard. The co-author is is a historian at the California Institute of Technology.
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on 7 June 2013
In "Merchants of Doubt", Oreskes & Conway argues that for a number of scientific topics, an aggressive minority, financed by industrial companies and free-market think tanks, have used disinformation and smear campaigns to obstruct the scientific procedure and discredit scientific consensus. The topics span the link between cancer and smoking, acid rain, the ozone hole, global warming and pesticides: The authors argue that both the public and the government have been misled about these issues, and that the consequence has been lackluster responses to these problems. The book is not only about documenting these episodes, but also discusses the relationship between science and the media, and how science should be discussed publicly and how it should be used by government bodies.

The book appears very meticulously researched, and is well-written. The authors in general do not appear unduly biased against the "merchants of doubt" such as Frederick Seitz and Fred Singer et cetera, for the most part keeping the debate at a fair level and explicitly acknowledging the scientific accolades of those scientists whom they accuse of obstructing the dissemination of proper science. One exception is that they repeatedly explain the motivations of several of the obstructive scientists as coming from their cold war anti-communism and free-market fundamentalism: Given the political opinions and affiliations of these scientists, this is a fair hypothesis, but to some degree remains a hypothesis and not a fact on level with most of the remainder of the book. Also, the authors occasionally make a few mediocre arguments, for example when defending the use of 90% confidence intervals instead of 95% confidence intervals (p. 156-157) or when criticizing Lomborg's focus on resource allocation (p. 228, p. 259). However, these issues are few and far between.

When all is said and done, Oreskes & Conway very convincingly argues that a minority of industry captains and right-wing think tanks and scientists have conducted a well-funded and extensive disinformation campaign against several health and environmental issues, a campaign which in hindsight was based on patently false claims, which have cost real human lives, and which will continue to cost human lives in the future. With governments and laypeople still often not being aware of the long-existing scientific consensus about the seriousness of for example global warming, this book is as important as ever: As long as people keep listening to this disinformation campaign, progress on combating global warming will keep stalling, and our children (well, particularly the children of third-world countries, probably) will pay the price.
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on 9 April 2013
If you have been interested in global warming, the limits to growth and so on there is not all that much new material here, but newcomers to the debate will find the book extremely valuable.
For me the value consists in the description of how the doubting business started, who started it, how was it financed, in short how did everything fit together.
On a national note (I am a Dane) Lomborg is debunked at the end of the book. For a Dane that is neither here nor there because he was debunked in his fatherland well before he became internationally known, but for the rest of the world this section may be useful.
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